Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Webster’s Death
By James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927)
From ‘History of the United States’

THE ELECTION of 1852 gave the death-blow to the Whig party: it never entered another Presidential contest. Webster, as well as Clay, died before his party received this crushing defeat, which indeed he had predicted. His physical frame worn out, he went, early in September, home to Marshfield to die. The story of his last days, as told in loving detail by his friend and biographer, is of intense interest to the hero-worshiper; and has likewise pointed the moral of many a Christian sermon. The conversations of great minds that, unimpaired, deliver themselves at the approach of death to introspection, are, like the most famous of all, the discourse of Socrates in the ‘Phædo,’ a boon to human-kind. The mind of Webster was perfectly clear; and when all earthly striving was over, his true nature shone out in the expression of thoughts that filled his soul. Speaking of the love of nature growing stronger with time, he said: “The man who has not abandoned himself to sensuality feels, as years advance and old age comes on, a greater love of Mother Earth, a greater willingness and even desire to return to her bosom, and mingle with this universal frame of things from which he sprang.” Two weeks before he died, he wrote that he wished inscribed on his monument: “Philosophical argument, especially that drawn from the vastness of the universe in comparison with the apparent insignificance of this globe, has sometimes shaken my reason for the faith that is within me; but my heart has assured and reassured me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be a Divine reality.” The day before his death, he said with perfect calmness to his physician, “Doctor, you have carried me through the night, I think you will get me through to-day; I shall die to-night.” The doctor honestly replied, “You are right, sir.”  1
  His family, friends, and servants having assembled in his room, he spoke to them “in a strong, full voice, and with his usual modulation and emphasis: ‘No man who is not a brute can say that he is not afraid of death. No man can come back from that bourn; no man can comprehend the will or works of God. That there is a God, all must acknowledge. I see him in all these wondrous works, himself how wondrous!’”  2
  Eloquent in life, Webster was sublime in death. He took leave of his household one by one, addressing to each fitting words of consolation. He wanted to know the gradual steps towards dissolution; and calmly discussed them with his physician. At one time, awaking from a partial stupor which preceded death, he heard repeated the words of the psalm which has smoothed the death pillow of many a Christian: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The dying statesman exclaimed, “Yes, ‘thy rod—thy staff,’—but the fact, the fact I want;”… for he was not certain whether the words that had been repeated to him were intended as an intimation that he was already in the dark valley. Waking up again past midnight, and conscious that he was living, he uttered the well-known words, “I still live.” Later he said something about poetry, and his son repeated one of the verses of Gray’s ‘Elegy.’ He heard it, and smiled. In the early morning Webster’s soul went out with the tide.  3
  It was a beautiful Sunday morning of an Indian Summer’s day when the sad tidings reached Boston, which came home to nearly all of her citizens as a personal sorrow. In all the cities of the land, mourning emblems were displayed and minute-guns were fired. New York City and Washington grieved for him as for a friend. During the week there were the usual manifestations of mourning by the government at Washington; the various departments were closed, and the public buildings were draped with emblems of woe. Festal scenes and celebrations were postponed; and on the day of his funeral, business was suspended in nearly all the cities during the hours when he was borne to his last resting-place. “From east to west,” said Edward Everett, “and from north to south, a voice of lamentation has already gone forth, such as has not echoed through the land since the death of him who was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  4
  By Webster’s own request, he had a modest country funeral. The services were conducted in his Marshfield home. The coffin was borne to the tomb by six of the neighboring farmers; and the multitude followed slowly and reverently. To the Marshfield farmers and Green Harbor fishermen, Webster was a companion and a friend; by them he was mourned sincerely as one of their own fellowship. It could not be said of him that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country. One man in a plain and rustic garb paid the most eloquent of all tributes to the mighty dead: “Daniel Webster, the world without you will seem lonesome.” A Massachusetts orator of our day has truly said: “Massachusetts smote and broke the heart of Webster, her idol, and then broke her own above his grave.”  5

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.